Grinding through

Beth Fox/Special to PrepsKC

By Rance Burger The Springfield News Leader
Posted: November 24, 2015 - 8:35 AM

Odessa’s defense protected the goal line just enough to survive Aurora

Odessa beat the Houn’ Dawgs 14-7 on a cold and windy Saturday afternoon at Aurora’s Kelly Field in the semifinal playoffs of Class 3 football. Running back Kobe Hardin didn’t play a down of football until his senior year, but his 115 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries made the difference for Odessa.

“It’s an amazing feeling,”Hardin said. “We knew we could do it from day one, we just had to execute and we did.”

Hardin is known for being a baseball player, but was quickly welcomed to the football team.

“I was already friends with most of these guys. We go to a small school so everybody really knows everybody,” Hardin said. “Playing football with them—I mean, they are like my brothers now. They were my friends, but now they’re my brothers.”

This marks the first time for Odessa to make a semifinal appearance since 1994. Veteran coach Mark Thomas has been to state championship games with other schools, and believes Hardin was the right addition to the Bulldogs.

“It seems like every team that I’ve been part of that has made that far had a player or two that people weren’t counting on when the season started, and they blossom for you. Kobe is that guy this year,” Thomas said.

Odessa (13-1) led 14-0 at halftime.

“I never dreamed that it would be the only 14 points,” Thomas said.

A 65-yard third quarter drive capped with a 7-yard touchdown run for Aurora quarterback Payton Evans pulled the Houn Dawgs’ within a touchdown.

“We got that 14-point lead and then we just shut everything down, I guess and made it scary,” Hardin said.

Evans touchdown marked the one time in four trips inside the Odessa 30-yard line that Aurora would score. Odessa forced turnovers on downs on two consecutive Aurora possessions to close the win.

“We tried our dead-level best to do it, but just couldn’t get it done. We tried. We gave it everything that we’ve got,” Aurora coach Kale Kilgo said.

Odessa’s defense limited Aurora to 43 rushing yards.

Senior Cody Evans chipped in 34 rushing yards on eight carries in support of Hardin’s efforts.

Bulldogs quarterback Ty Wagner was 9-of-16 passing for 76 yards. His Aurora counterpart, Evans, completed 16 of 28 pass attempts for 182 yards.

The Bulldogs meet John Burroughs, 31-18 winners over Blair Oaks in the opposite semifinal, for the Class 3 state championship Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Thomas believes it may be December before his Bulldogs realize the magnitude on their season. He plans to avoid nostalgia by encouraging them to focus on the John Burroughs Bombers (13-1)

“I don’t think these kids are really going to understand it until we move from it and they really get to look back at the experience,” Thomas said.